I spent a lot of time in conference rooms over the span of my career. Team meetings, staff meetings, board of directors meetings, monthly business reviews, quarterly reviews, budget meetings, product concept meetings, demand planning meetings - every day was a cascading waterfall of meetings.
Every meeting, even the consistently recurring sessions had the potential to jump the rails and go just about anywhere. Ten minutes in and you are asking yourself “am I in the right meeting?” Some had hilarious moments and some were absolutely soul-crushing. Meetings drive business mechanics. Great meetings reinforce, bring clarity, and inspire. Bad meetings create confusion, fracture team alignment, and stifle creativity. Dysfunctional teams have dysfunctional meetings. Dysfunctional meetings erode productivity and profitability.
It’s very circular. Negative bias in the corporate culture fuels dysfunctional interpersonal behaviors. The smudge in the company’s aura colors the tone and intent of meetings. Teams feel the stress, react to it and culture takes a hit. You can break the cycle by stepping up and leading by example. Here are a few tips to bring a positive tone to every meeting you attend.
Scheduling - Break out of the 30 minute - 1-hour format. Try leaving a 10-minute buffer. If every meeting starts and ends on the hour someone’s going to be late. Try scheduling 20, 50, 75-minute meetings, It creates space for brainstorming and collaboration, and you get a bio-break before your next meeting, return a call or two and answer a few emails.
Be on-time. Be on-time. Be on-time. “Bring the band down behind me boys…BE ON TIME.” I know that’s hard for some of you. It’s a negative differentiator and a personal brand issue. That’s not the case in some international cultures, but here in the states, being on-time matters.
Preparation - I picked this up from my dear friend Pat. She was Bill Schultz’ Senior Administrator for many years and a great mentor to me. You need to remember, I came into the corporate world at Fender after a decade on the road touring, I needed all the professional coaching I could get. One afternoon I was lamenting about the chaos of my day, she shared “Here's what I do for Bill, I take his agenda for the following day and review it with him before he heads home. This gives him a chance to process overnight and the day doesn’t feel so improvised.”
Wow, a word to the wise is sufficient. I started this practice and have maintained it to this day. It gives you an opportunity to consider your role in the session, who is driving, and what are they hoping to accomplish. If I haven’t seen an agenda I can ask where it is prior to the meeting. Do I have a point of view I need to share or am I there to learn?
Do everyone a favor, if it’s your meeting, publish an agenda and any essential materials 24 hours prior to the meeting. Give people the opportunity and time to formulate questions and a point of view. It’s always interesting who does the pre-read. Don’t be the person that didn’t. It’s unprofessional and disrespectful.
Be Engaged - I can’t believe I have to say this but I find myself absolutely compelled. Put your phone down, close your laptop, turn toward the presenter and practice your Active Listening Skills. Don’t just hear—listen. Use verbal and non-verbal acknowledgments to show the presenter you understand what they are saying. Honor your peers by paying attention. Especially you senior leaders out there that believe you are too busy to focus on the moment.
There is no way you can flex your critical thinking muscles, mine your creativity and that of others, see what can barely be seen…if you’re not in the freaking game. This is a personal branding exercise and an opportunity for Positive Personal Differentiation. Be a leader, set the example.
Know Your Audience - Are you doing the Bull-Pen Hustle or the C-Suite Shuffle? Are you selling to a group that doesn’t want to be sold? Are you going down the proverbial rabbit hole and no one is following? Who is in the room is vitally important. There are obvious examples such as bridging hi-tech issues with lo-tech groups. Budgeting Masterclass or Finance 101? Ask yourself if you are presenting information in a digestible, relevant format for the audience in the room.
I recall our SAP implementation. Twitch, spasm, twitch, spasm — the learning curve was so steep it was incredibly difficult to absorb. It was a whole new language full of acronyms that twisted your psyche. To my musician ears, it sounded like “We will be presenting DVDs and CDs of data captured by ELO and REM.” I had a similar feeling when I came out of brain surgery and realized I couldn’t read. Just symbols all mixed up.
Make sure you are getting through to your audience, don’t speak down to them, or over their heads. Don't hurry them along when they are thirsty for details or reimagining possibilities. If you are driving, maintain control and be versatile.
Interpersonal Blindness - Part-2 of Know Your Audience. Assess the room quickly. If you know the participants, review and consider their Personality Design or social behavior. We will speak to this in greater detail in subsequent posts, but for now—who speaks up and will tend to dominate the conversation? Who do you need to create “communication space” for? You know the type, they have something good to say but they can't get a word in edgewise. Who has questions or comments they save for the hallway discussion later?
Be proactive. Trying to understand people’s default behavioral approach may require YOU to close the gap. Yes, step outside your agenda and create comfort and safety for those that need it. Some are looking for trust and credibility. It’s not a universal fit. Who is in, who’s out and who missed the point? Backtrack if necessary and make sure everybody gets it.
Best Advice - This is without a doubt the most powerful advice I received on the topic of meeting strategies. Especially, if your tendency, like mine, is to speak up - often. Ask and answer these three questions before your tongue goes to work:
Does it need to be said?
Does it need to be said right now?
Does it need to be said by me?
This filter has proven its value so many times it’s hard for me to quantify. Those I have shared it with, that implemented it, have also celebrated its positive impact. Try it.
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